Penguin, 2016 437 pgs.
Sea of Ink and Gold series #1
Sefia lives a nomadic lifestyle with her guardian Nim after her parents die. When Nim is captured by dreaded Redcoats, Sefia is determined to find her. Among Nim's belongings she discovers a book, only inhabitants of this land do not know how to read. By studying the book every chance she gets, Sefia is able to decipher the symbols. She stumbles upon a boy trapped in a box, who cannot speak. He has been trained to fight other boys to the death and is, judging from the marks around his body, very good at it. Sefia rescues him, names him Archer, and the two become companions and, eventually, partners. Sefia reads to Archer from the book she inherited. The story within her story is that of a group of adventuring pirates who set off to find the end of the world and have many harrowing escapades along the way. Eventually, Sefia and Archer's and the Pirate's story-lines come together in a surprising way, only to break apart again as the Pirates complete their quest and Sefia and Archer continue the journey to save Nim. Meanwhile, we learn of Lon, an appretice to the land's librarian, who is being trained to read and to save the world with the help of "The Book". Lon's story intertwines with Sefina's by book's end in a surprising plot twist. All of our heroes complete their quests, yet, although Sefia has found Nim and discovers the true identity of her enemy, she now must use her powers to save the world from the evil Guard in the next installment in the series.
Whew! I won't lie: The Reader is a lot of book. Maybe because it was the book I kept by my bed to read before falling asleep during a very busy summer reading club, but it took me a long time to slug through and I'm still not sure I fully understand it. Admittingly, I'm not a very patient reader, which might be why reading children's books suits me. This is a book that requires a patient and thoughtful reader. That said, for the right person, it will prove to be a treasure. Chee has penned a beautifully crafted story that reads like a fairy-tale and every word counts. Three separate stories weave through time, coming together at different points, only to break apart again. The plot is original and fresh and the both the setting and the characters are fully realized. My favorite character is the boy Archer, who is both sad and fabulous. He is so interesting with future potential that readers will want to go in the series just to see how he develops. Chee sends strong messages about the power of books and reading, finding your inner strength, taking chances, and the importance of loyalty. The Reader is getting amazing reviews and for good reason: its a beautifully written story that is sure to win awards. It just may not be for the average reader (or for over-tired librarians).